The CIA and Germany’s BND secretly owned and ran for decades a company that made and sold code-writing machines for secret communications to many countries, including India, and easily unencrypted the intercepted messages and shared the intercepted information among a tight group of partners.
The Washington Post that uncovered the secret operation from CIA classified documents, in a joint project with German broadcaster ZDF, said the company called Crypto AG was based in Switzerland and was dismembered and sold off in 2018 to separate companies, who were no aware of its antecedents.
The Post reported that India was among the company’s more than 120 clients, along with Pakistan. The report did not specify, however, any Indian intelligence operation or communication that may have been intercepted, and used, though it mention a few, such as Iranian and Egyptian messages.
Countries spy on each other and this is not the first time US intelligence has been found snooping on India. In 2013, secret documents released by US whistleblower Edward Snowden had shown the National Security Agency of the US had accessed computers of the Indian embassy in Washington DC and the permanent mission to the UN in New York in a massive clandestine operation that had gone on till earlier that year.
The joint CIA-BND operation was codenamed “Thesaurus” initially and then “Rubicon”. It ran from the 1970s to 2018 and has been called one of the most audacious of intelligence operations. “It was the intelligence coup of the century,” the CIA report said, according to Washington Post. “Foreign governments were paying good money to the US and West Germany for the privilege of having their most secret communications read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries.”
Crypto, the company, was founded by a man named Boris Hagelin, a Russian who fled first to Sweden and then to the United States. The United States and BND took over its control completely in early 1970s, controlled personnel decisions and and designed the compromised devices that also earned them millions of dollars, which they used to fund other operations.
The Post said the CIA monitored the Iranians for years, specially during the hostage crisis, as they used Crypto devices. The US was able to quickly pin the blame for a 1986 bombing on a Berlin disco on Libya and passed Argentinian intelligence to the British during the Falklands War in 1982.